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Changes To Maine's Medical Marijuana Rules Take Effect

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
In this Friday, April 22, 2016 photo, a jar containing a strain of marijuana nicknamed "Killer D" is seen at a medical marijuana facility in Unity, Maine.

Today's a big day for medical marijuana businesses throughout Maine. Legislation passed last summer is taking effect, and it promises to make it easier for Mainers to obtain marijuana products to treat whatever ails them. Wellness Connection Chief Executive Patricia Rosi has two things to celebrate:  a renovated Portland dispensary and a new, medical marijuana law.

"Thanks for taking the time to share this milestone with us today," Rosi said. "Today marks the implementation of a sweeping and much-needed reform in the medical cannabis program. 

The Legislature passed the reform bill last July. Jessica Coakley wishes it had passed years ago. Coakley, who's from Orono, was injured in childbirth and, for a time, says she was addicted to opioid painkillers.  She didn't see medical marijuana as an alternative.

"I think the biggest thing that would have helped me before is the pre-qualifying conditions," Coakley says. "I, for two years, thought that my pain wasn't enough. I didn't have a specific diagnosis that was spelled out on the list."

Rosi says the reform legislation does four major things:  One, it makes medical marijuana more widely available. It does so by eliminating the list of medical conditions that were previously necessary to qualify for a prescription.

Two, it creates an inspection regime that's expected to increase safety. Three, it allows businesses to share marijuana supplies, allowing for a wider variety of products. And, finally, it increases control by local governments of medical marijuana businesses.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling says Wellness Connection has been a good, corporate citizen since it opened  in 2011.  But he says the city wants to be deliberate as it crafts new rules for recreational marijuana sales, due to start next year.

"Often people, as we were having this conversation, would say, 'Hey, hey, wait a minute, you know cigarettes and alcohol, why not just do the same for cannabis-marijuana?' Well, we know that with cigarettes and alcohol over 100 years of our country's history, 200 years, we really did not do very well in terms of how we controlled those substances and how we made sure it didn't do a lot of harm."

Portland is among the cities and towns figuring out how it will change zoning to allow, or restrict marijuana dispensaries going forward.

Strimling said the city also wants to move quickly, to counter the black market in marijuana that currently exists. He said the city will begin discussing zoning for marijuana retail shops at a meeting early in the new year.

Originally published Dec. 13, 2018 at 1:06 p.m. ET.